On Sept. 22, the Auburn Tigers will face a Arkansas team led by new Razorbacks head coach Chad Morris. While it will serve as an important SEC West showdown between both teams, it will also pit two coaches against each other who have a friendship that goes back 15 years.
At SEC Media Days, Morris and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn discussed their connection that dates back to their high school coaching days. It all started with a call out of the blue from Morris — then the Stephenville High (Stephenville, Texas) head coach — to Malzahn, who was at Springdale High School (Springdale, Arkansas) at that time.
Morris wanted to learn more about Malzahn’s offensive system, which would ultimately lead both down a path headed straight to the Southeastern Conference.
“I think I was coaching a state championship game, and I think he called me (and asked) if he could bring in his staff,” Malzahn said. “I didn’t know him at all. After that, we got together I think for the next two years and just talked offensive football.”
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After a down first year at Stephenville, Morris reeled off 75 wins in 81 games and set the young coach off toward a college coaching career that led him to assistant coaching jobs at Tulsa and Clemson then head coaching jobs at SMU and now Arkansas. Morris credited Malzahn as a huge help, given Malzahn did not know Morris at all when he cold called.
“He’s been very instrumental into me standing on this stage today from a time way back,” Morris said. “From a high school football coach that had been successful and had fallen on a bad year and needing to look at the change that was happening in football and to reach out to someone that didn’t know me and I didn’t know him and him to lend a helping hand to me really allowed me to continue to progress my career.”
Football was the foundation of the friendship between the two, but over the years it’s gone beyond the sport. Morris and his wife Paula consider Malzahn and his wife, Kristi, friends, and the two coaches have kept close tabs on each other as they’ve risen through the ranks.
The Morrises and Malzahns may not have much to say to each other during the fourth week of September, but that won’t last past the game’s conclusion.
“You know, it’s unique,” Morris said. “This is a fraternity. It’s a great fraternity, and you get to really interact. And that one time a year, you get to go against each other.”
Even though Morris is now the head coach of an annual opponent, Malzahn still holds him in very high regard.
“I’m very proud of Chad, coming from a high school coach and being a head coach in this league,” Malzahn said. “Chad is one of the smarter coaches I’ve ever been around. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around. I’ve considered him a true friend.
“Now he’s in our league, and he’ll be very successful. He’s a great coach and even better person.”